The star TW Hydrae, located about 150 light-years from Earth, is only about 10 million years old, and is currently in this planet-forming stage. Because TW Hydrae is relatively close and bright, and because it rotates with its pole pointed nearly directly towards the Earth, scientists can view the star's disk of material nearly face on to study what is happening.
One outstanding puzzle is how rocky planets (like the Earth) can acquire their water. Most scenarios argue that the Earth's water arrived later on - via comets from the outer solar system. Thus a focus of recent astronomy has been the study of the composition of the outer parts of the young stellar disk.CfA astronomer Gary Melnick, a leading expert on water in space, joined with a team of colleagues last fall to use the Herschel Space Observatory to look for traces of water around TW Hydrae.
The team reported finding convincing evidence for a reservoir of water ice in this star's disk -- with inferred quantities of water ice amounting to several thousand Earth-oceans. Moreover, they discovered from details of the ice chemistry that probably the ice comes from a mixture distributed throughout the system. The results gave convincing support to the current scenario of the origin of the Earth's oceans.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Source: The Daily Galaxy - Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics